Thursday August 31, 2017

How opening our ears can open our minds: Hildegard Westerkamp

Hildegard Westerkamp

Hildegard Westerkamp (Andrew Czink )

Listen to Full Episode 53:59

Soundscape composer Hildegard Westerkamp hears the world differently than most people. Where many of us might hear noise, she uncovers extraordinary beauty and meaning. It's all in how we listen to our environment. Paul Kennedy joins Hildegard Westerkamp on a sound-walk through Vancouver's downtown eastside, and explores how opening our ears to our surroundings can open our minds. **This episode originally aired February 2, 2017.


"To be in the present as a listener is a revolutionary act. We absolutely need it, to be grounded in that way."

"People are afraid of silence, because it's perceived as a vacuum. It's not perceived as a source of inspiration…. The tools to search out the environmental sounds that heal us have been lessened as a result."

"Listening will help us reconnect to the environment. If we can understand what listening can do to reconnect us to our environment, we can understand what's happening to our environment... we would be enriched, hugely."

Hildegard Westerkamp - Camel

Hildegard Westerkamp recording the sounds of a camel in the desert near Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, India in 1992. (Peter Grant)

Composer Hildegard Westerkamp points out there's a difference between hearing the world and listening to the world. She says that listening -- real listening -- is a revolutionary act. For nearly five decades she developed a musical form called "soundscape composition." She encourages us to listen to the sounds around us and the sounds we create as part of an ongoing surround-sound composition. She worked closely with renowned avant-garde musician R. Murray Schafer and the World Soundscape Project .   

​Hildegard Westerkamp's Compositions referenced in the program:

  • A Walk Through the City (1981), 16m02s​
    A Walk Through The City is an urban environmental composition based on Norbert Ruebsaat's poem of the same name and centres on Vancouver's downtown eastside. The piece was commissioned by and first broadcast on CBC Radio's Two New Hours, in April, 1981. 
  • Beneath the Forest Floor (1992), 12m23s
    Beneath The Forest Floor is composed from sounds recorded in old-growth forests on British Columbia's west coast. It moves us through the visible forest, into its shadow world, its spirit; into that which effects our body, heart and mind when we experience forest. Most of the sounds for this composition were recorded in one specific location, the Carmanah Valley on Vancouver Island. 

  • Attending to Sacred Matters (2002) 
    Attending to Sacred Matters is from from the album Into India … In it you hear the voice of environmental activist Vandana Shiva. The composition is based on the sounds of religious and spiritual practices that Hildegard encountered and recorded in India.

  • Beads of Time Sounding (2016) -- a collaboration with Terri Hron (recorder)
    Terri's visit to Hildegard's former home village in North Germany happened in June of 2010 at a crucial time of transformation for both. They simply set out to explore this intuitive time, roaming though places of childhood memories and landscapes of significance. In a deeper sense this composition is perceived as a meditation on soundscape and music in general but as represented specifically through the soundscapes and musical instrument sounds reminiscent of and harkening back to memories of home and childhood pasts.

    Beads of Time Sounding Premiere Excerpt from Terri Hron on Vimeo.

Related websites:

Ecology of Sound - Hildegard Westerkamp, Paul Kennedy Jenni Schine

Hildegard Westerkamp, Paul Kennedy and freelance producer Jenni Schine set out for their ‘sound walk’ in Vancouver. A soundwalk is a walk that Hildi leads with her ears. Participants follow without speaking, just listening. (Jenni Schine)


**This episode was produced by Jenni Schine in Vancouver and Nicola Luksic in Toronto.